Nursing China's Ailing Forests Back to Health

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 556-558
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_556

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In sections of southern China, villagers and local governments conspire to transform vibrant forests into plantations for money-spinners such as eucalyptus, rubber, and oil palm. Yet forests cover only about 18% of China's landmass, and timber yield and quality are lower than in many other places. China's enthusiasm for converting large areas into single-species plantations has taken a heavy toll. Monocultures are often susceptible to pests and diseases, and the resulting soil degradation destabilizes ecosystems. And the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. In 2003, the central government approved a regulation that grants Chinese citizens an extension of how long they can farm or manage a community forest—from 30 to 70 years. That enormous policy change effectively grants people land ownership for their lifetimes. Seduced by easy money, many individuals do as they please with forest patches under their control. Researchers are hoping to restore China's forests before it's too late.